On Monday, The Wall Street Journal published a special section entitled, “Why Everything You Know About Aging is Probably Wrong.” This interesting article by Anne Tergesen explains six myths about aging and why, although widespread, they are incorrect.
Ms. Tergesen’s @WSJ article is particularly relevant at a time when many companies begin laying off workers as they hit their fifties—or even earlier. Every month HR departments and hiring managers take the drastic step of releasing well educated, highly skilled, and extremely experienced workers out of a deep-seated prejudice that stems from many of these six myths.
I have written about ageism myths in the business world before and given my own reasons why this popular form of discrimination is wrong and destructive to companies. In “Millenials, Maturity and Antelopes: Why the Waterhole is Shrinking” I gave five myths about older employees and why they’re wrong. So it was encouraging to see that these research results are validating my opinions.
Six Myths That Support Ageism
While research does not apply directly to work environments, it’s easy to see how the results reinforce the benefits that older employees can deliver to an organization. In short, here are Ms. Tergesen’s six ageism myths:
- Myth: Depression is more prevalent in old age.
Fact: “In general, when we look at older adults, they tend to be happier, less anxious, less angry and tend to adapt well to their circumstances.”
- Myth: Cognitive decline is inevitable.
Fact: “. . . barring dementia, older adults perform better in the real world than they do on cognitive tests.”
- Myth: Older workers are less productive.
Fact: “The economists determined that over that four-year period, the older workers committed slightly fewer severe errors, while the younger workers’ severe error rates edged up.”
- Myth: Loneliness is more likely.
Fact: “Older adults typically report better marriages, more supportive friendships, less conflict with children and siblings and closer ties with members of their social networks than younger adults.”
- Myth: Creativity declines with age.
Fact: “Creative genius clusters in to two categories: conceptual artists, who tend to do their best work in their 20s and 30s, and experimental artists, who often need a few more decades to reach full potential.”
- Myth: More exercise is better.
Fact: “Stick to a moderate cardiovascular workout of no more than 30 miles (of running) a week or 50 to 60 minutes of vigorous exercise a day, and take at least one day off each week.”
What the research shows is that older employees are just as creative, just as productive, and just as sharp as younger workers. In fact, they may be better balanced mentally and more creative than their younger co-workers. Experience also helps them to make fewer mistakes. And they don’t need to run a marathon to be fit and healthy.
This research also supports my opinion that older workers can help alleviate the perceived shortage of workers who are qualified to hold jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) occupations. I don’t believe that this shortage actually exists, mind you. I think it’s all propaganda to open up more H-1B slots for foreign workers who will work for less money than Americans.
But if you do believe in the shortage of qualified STEM candidates, here are six good reasons to look beyond H-1B workers and consider older candidates. Add my five and you have 11 reasons. Along with smarts, skills, and education, you get experience that decreases errors, speeds up projects, delivers better results, and saves money over time.
It would be great if organizations took @annetergesen’s information to heart and opened their hiring processes up to older workers. Companies would benefit by adding this diversity of skills, opinions, and wisdom far more than they can imagine.